2. International policy and regulation

There is a wide range of means and measures to influence WEEE generation, management and impacts, ranging from restricting its generation through better design, enhancing recycling and reuse schemes, introducing market forces into waste through product stewardship programmes, and more use of classic 'end of pipe' solutions such as technically engineered landfills. Well established principles such as 'polluter pays', 'prevention is better than cure' and the 'precautionary principle' have been applied to such initiatives by various Governments internationally, in the effort to strike a balance between maintaining the benefits of EEE while minimising the environmental and human health costs of WEEE. Such initiatives can be loosely termed 'policy and regulation', and range from sponsorship of voluntary schemes to legislation mandating particular courses of action.

Internationally, the main regulation is the Basel Convention on the control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Disposal, and ratification obliges countries to address the problem of transboundary movement and disposal of dangerous hazardous wastes through international cooperation. Hazardous wastes listed in Annex VIII of the Convention cannot be passed between countries that have ratified the ban agreement. However, the agreement does not restrict the import of such wastes from countries that have not ratified the Convention. The 1994 amendment calls for a ban of hazardous waste export from certain countries, including all member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation Development (OECD), which includes the United States and China.

In considering the impacts of WEEE and the case for policy and regulation in New Zealand, it is relevant to review initiatives to date. For the purposes of this literature review several countries and regions have been used to describe the connection between policy, WEEE impacts and resulting legislation, directives, regulations and bans. These include:

  • European Union (EU)
  • United States of America (USA)
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Australia.

While not conclusive, the following jurisdictional overview helps to highlight the breadth of activity in response to WEEE related impacts and issues.

2.1 European Union - Policy Context and Development

The European Union as well as individual member states and non-members have a relatively long history of research and policy development focused on WEEE. Concern about the consequences and impacts of landfilling and incineration of WEEE has resulted in the enactment of two key related EU Directives:

  1. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EU WEEE) imposes on producers and distributors "take-back" and recycling obligations, and related obligations to reduce waste from EEE.
  2. Restriction of Hazardous Substances (EU RoHS) bans the use of six substances in EEE to agreed levels. From 1st July 2006, new EEE put on the market may not contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, PBBs or PBDEs.

These two Directives represent a mandatory approach to obliging industry and other stakeholders to play a more significant role in maximising the environmental performance of EEE while simultaneously reducing risk, toxicity and hazard impacts associated with WEEE.

The key European Commission (EC) document aimed at substantiating the WEEE and RoHS Directives is the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (2000). While this document is not as exhaustive as it may have been, and therefore has its critics, it does elaborate on the essential rationale behind the need for the WEEE Directive, both in terms of environmental and human health reasons (see below).

2.2 USA - Policy Context and Development

The diversity of WEEE policy initiatives across the USA underscores the complexity of Federal - State relations. Several individual States are moving much faster with local legislation, bans and initiatives related to WEEE, from landfill bans on specified WEEE through to more elaborate producer responsibility and product stewardship schemes targeting IT equipment, TVs and major appliances.

States with legislation already in place include:

State Activity - Outcome

Arkansas

Allows the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to implement regulations banning the disposal of all computer and electronic equipment in landfills, beginning January 1, 2008.

California

The Electronic Waste Recycling Act (2003) represents one of the most ambitious pieces of WEEE related legislation in the USA. Key elements of the Act include:

  • Reduction in hazardous substances used in certain electronic products sold in California.
  • Collection of an electronics recycling fee at point of sale of certain products.
  • Distribution of recovery and recycling payments to qualified entities covering the cost of electronic waste collection and recycling.
  • Directive to recommend environmentally preferred purchasing criteria for state agency purchases of certain electronic equipment.

Illinois

Creates the Computer Equipment Disposal and Recycling Commission; working towards a computer recovery and recycling scheme.

Louisiana

Developing a strategy for the proper management of electronic discards focused on the recovery of components from discarded computers and for the reduction of landfilling or incinerating discarded electronics.

Maine

Requires the Department of Environment Protection to report on the effectiveness of cellular telephone recycling collection programs in the state to the legislature.

Maryland

Requires computer manufacturers to submit environment compliance plans that describe an action plan proving that computers can be easily broken down into recyclable components and contains the least achievable amounts of hazardous materials; includes a state computer recycling fee to be collected by retailers at the point of purchase.

Minnesota

Has created a waste management task force that will address WEEE issues in the state including implementation of a CRT disposal ban scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2006.

Washington

Requires manufacturers to register with the Department of Ecology by January 2007 and to implement and finance the collection, transportation and recycled if covered products by January 2009. Includes creation of a public entity to develop and implement a collection and recycling program for manufacturers participating in the standard plan. Cover TVs and IT equipment.

Source: Personal communication, Andrew Sweatman, WSP Environmental, 26 May 2006.

There is an extensive list of proposed, debated and in-progress bills on e-waste across numerous states, illustrating the generally high but disjointed level of WEEE related policy activity in the USA. Examples of other States that have or are continuing through this process include:

Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In terms of relevant research and reports on WEEE impacts and issues, two noteworthy studies deal respectively with desktop computer displays and cell phones:

  • Life Cycle Assessment of Desktop Computer Displays: Summary of Results. 2002, prepared for the US EPA; prepared by the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products and Clean technologies; and
  • Waste in the Wireless World. 2002, written by Bette K. Fishbein, Inform, Inc., New York.

2.3 Canada - Policy Context and Development

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) is facilitating a cooperative approach to addressing WEEE related issues in order to achieve regional and national solutions. Earlier research studies by Environment Canada in 2000 and 2003 established the extent of the issue while also helping improve awareness and understanding. Two key reports provided some of the initial impetus for continuing policy development:

Information Technology and Telecommunication Waste in Canada (2000); and Baseline Study on End-of-Life Electrical and Electronic Equipment in Canada (2003).

More recently in April 2005, the CCME released 'Canada-Wide Principles for Electronics Product Stewardship: Recommended E-Waste Products'. This document includes two important notes in terms of continuing policy priorities and actions:

  • "In June 2004, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment endorsed Canada-wide principles for electronics product stewards. The objective of these Canada-wide principles is to assist and support jurisdictions in the development of e-waste programs. While recognizing difference in the legislative/regulatory framework and existing programs among jurisdictions, CCME encourages regional or national cooperation in the development of e-waste programs."
  • It is anticipated that the lists may be revised from time to time to reflect changing priorities, new information, the development of stewardship programs and the introduction of new electronic devices into the Canadian market, Specific measures undertaken by each jurisdiction and their timing will be at their discretion, with the goal of effective, efficient, and harmonized implementation."

The CCME have also developed a comprehensive list of recommended e-waste products to 'assist and support jurisdictions' in the creation of specific take back and recycling initiatives.

Additional information and source documents regarding e-waste policy development is available from the CCME website: http://www.ccme.ca/ourwork/waste.html#ewaste

At a Provincial level, several jurisdictions are actively working on WEEE related regulations, rules and programs. For example:

  • Manitoba has proposed regulation whereby producers and retailers would be 'prohibited from selling products containing household hazardous waste including consumer electronics equipment and batteries, unless they provide or participate in an approved "stewardship" plan for managing such waste that meets certain financial, educational, operational and service criteria'.
  • Ontario has enacted waste diversion law that is likely to designate electronics components and batteries for take-back or recycling.
  • British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are also moving forward on WEEE related policies and regulations.

2.4 Japan - Policy Context and Development

The Government of Japan has moved relatively swiftly in the development and implementation of their WEEE related policies and legislation. This has been further accompanied by strong support from consumers, producers and retailers. The principal statute is the Law for the Recycling of Specified Kinds of Home Appliances (also referred to as the "Home Appliance Recycling Law") came into effect in April 2001. Since enactment various post-consumer product types have been designated for collection and recycling action, including air conditioners, television sets, refrigerators and washing machines and PCs (Government of Japan, 2006).

The Home Appliance Recycling Law has a strong focus on collection by retailers as well as collection by manufacturers and other designated collection points. The Law requires the use of a 'home appliance voucher system' and provides consumers with the means of tracking their specific post consumer appliance and its status in terms of collection and processing. For more information (in Japanese) about the home appliance voucher system and product tracking visit: http://www.rkc.aeha.or.jp). For more information about the Home Appliance Recycling Law refer to the Government of Japan website: http://www.env.go.jp/en/recycle

2.5 Australia - Policy Context and Development

Australian Governments operate primarily throughout the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) as a means of developing national WEEE related policies and programs. The EPHC represents all Federal, State and Territory Environment Ministers and provides a national framework for identifying environmental priorities and actions across a range of areas and issues, including WEEE.

Within the context of WEEE, the EPHC has identified end-of-life IT equipment and televisions (TVs) as priority waste streams in need of industry action, particularly collection and processing. The consumer electronics industry is well advanced and has established a 'producer responsibility organisation' (PRO) called Product Stewardship Australia Ltd (PSA) to develop and implement a phased national collection, recycling and education scheme specifically focused on TVs. PSA's planning and scheme development activities are being developed on a collaborative basis with the EPHC and are significantly dependent on the formulation and enforcement of a National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) that will specifically address free-riders and competitive disadvantage issues. A key element of how Australian Governments and the TV sector will cooperate and move forward will be guided by a 'product stewardship agreement' featuring specific targets and KPIs concerning collection, processing, recycling and community awareness and action. A draft product stewardship agreement for the TV industry is scheduled for release and discussion at the June 2006 EPHC meeting of Environment Ministers. This co-regulatory approach to addressing WEEE is likely to expand and be applied by the EPHC across a range of other WEEE categories. The IT equipment industry is also working through EPHC processes to develop a national response to end-of-life IT equipment. The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) is working closely with Ministers and policy makers at a State and Federal level to develop a roadmap for ongoing planning and scheme development. The AIIA's proposal for ongoing action will also be tabled and discussed at the June 2006 EPHC meeting.

At a State level, the New South Wales Government has the legislation in place to regulate industry to address WEEE related priorities. The EPR Priority Program in NSW has been explicit in aiming to encourage producer responsibility and product stewardship among manufacturers and importers of electrical and electronic equipment. While the NSW Government's approach has the potential to introduce WEEE related regulation, it is unlikely to take place if the EPHC process is effective.

For more information refer to:

Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage

http://www.deh.gov.au/settlements/waste/electricals/index.html

Environment Protection and Heritage Council

http://www.ephc.gov.au/nepms/product_stewardship/product_stewardship.htm

New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation

http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/education/spd_epr_prodsteward.htm

2.6 South America - Policy Context and Development

Several South American countries are moving forward with policy formulation related to WEEE and RoHS type issues.

It appears that Brazil has been one of the more proactive South American countries with a focus on WEEE related policies and programs. At national level batteries are the subject of take-back and recycling requirements. Take-back and recycling are also featuring in related product categories however the extent to which such measures are regulated and mandatory appears limited at this time.

Argentina is also moving towards take-back and recycling requirements that will impact on WEEE and the federal proposal has the potential to address particular categories such as batteries and specific chemicals/substances. Overall, batteries appear to be attracting the greatest attention in Argentina with proposed bills being considered by their senate; the focus being on producer responsibility and labelling.

While there does not seem to be any mandatory requirements or standards regarding product take-back for electronics in Chile, their National Environment Commission (CONAMA) released an Integral Solid Waste Management Policy in 2005 covering the principles and concept of Extended Producer Responsibility.

On a more collaborative basis, Mercosul (or the Common Market of the South comprised of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) is moving towards the creation of a detailed chemicals management program. Part of this activity includes the preparation of a regional plan to address all aspects of hazardous chemicals including their management and the role of EPR.